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Embedding the Environment in Sustainable Development Goals
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
One of the principal outcomes of Rio+20 was the call to produce a set of universally applicable sustainable
development goals (SDGs) that balance the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable
development. This Paper provides advice and guidance on how environmental sustainability can be incorporated in the SDGs.
An analysis of current environmental goals and targets shows that the successful ones are built on general support from society and a scientific consensus that the problem exists and is urgent. The ones making most progress tend to be embedded in effective governance regimes, and be easier to implement because solutions are readily available. A key to success also seems to be that goals are underpinned by specific and measurable targets.
After considering the above and other lessons from current goals, the following framework is proposed forembedding environment in the SDGs:
1. A rationale and overarching vision for the SDGs, which is a narrative describing the basis for including
environmental sustainability in the SDGs;
2. An integrated approach for embedding environment in goals and targets which proposes basic
characteristics and types of goals and targets to be selected;
3. A set of six criteria for assessing or proposing goals and targets, and guidance on how to use them.
The criteria are: (i) Strong linkage of environment with socio-economic developmental goals; (ii) Decoupling
of socio-economic development from escalating resource use and environmental degradation; (iii)
Coverage of critical issues of environmental sustainability such as important irreversible changes in the
global environment; (iv) Take into account current global environmental goals and targets, (v) Scientifically
credible and verifiable; and (vi) Progress must be “trackable”.
4. A list of best practices for selecting indicators that can effectively support targets.
The framework and other ideas presented in the Paper are meant to stimulate a dialogue on environmental
sustainability and the SDGs.
Copyright United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs